Friday 28 August 2009

my head


Ok so I admit it, I have some serious head issues. I mean, what is it that causes me to freak out when climbing a route using hand placed protection? Ok so I’m not the most confident climber anyway (falling? What’s that? I’m too scared to fall indoors let alone out), but it seems that traditional climbing brings out the worst of my issues much more directly and strongly than any other form of climbing. Ok so that may sound logical to most, after all, relying on small wire wedges in sometimes questionable placements has got to be more dangerous than relying on a nice solid resin bolt yeah? Well for me the head issues used to be the other way around, I used to get far more scared on sport routes than traditional ones – a phenomenon I could only reconcile by assuming that the focus and concentration required to place solid gear on a traditional climb brought me a seemingly higher level of confidence in my own mentality and control than the simple clipping of quickdraws required on sport lines. I also used to think that traditional routes may have offered you more freedom of direction and routing than that provided when you have to follow a trail of steel hangers…however, my views of the different forms of climbing have begun to change…more on that soon.

Anyway, this week has been moderately successful training and climbing-wise as I have managed to do a decent length run (admittedly really slowly, more of a jog really I guess), a couple of wall sessions at the Beacon (which were INTENSE), and have been out real climbing on a day where the sky didn’t seem to be caving in on us like someone had left the taps on in the bath and the ceiling had finally given way.

Wednesday 19 August 2009

Sport climbing, Trevor Rocks

Ok so for the first time in ages I went bolt clipping. It hadn’t been the original intention but it was what Ritchie and I ended up doing. And it was brilliant. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a day’s climbing so much in a long while, and what’s more I’m hopeful that it will have given me enough of a confidence boost to be able to stop just pottering around so much on trad routes. I’m a far, far better climber than I ever give myself credit for.

So what did we (I) do? We headed over to the Fudd Walls area and clipped some serious bolts! Here is the list:

  • Item 1: Warm up on a 6a (!), ‘All Fudd Up’. Easy onsight. Nice
  • Item 2: A 6a+, ‘Chocolate Fudd’, from which it is more than plausible that the crux holds have fallen off (it was much harder than the 6bs!), and sadly I rested on it.
  • Item 3: A vague feeble attempt at a 6c called ‘Would I, Should I, Fudd I’. Neither of us had the bottle to go beyond the first bolt!
  • Item 4: A 6b called ‘Fudd Off’. I thrilled and surprised myself by onsighting this one (my hardest ever sport onsight!), finding only one hard move. Recovery of QD from the 6c.
  • Item 5: Another 6b, ‘The Fuddites’. This one Ritchie attempted first but failed on (trying not to use a crack feature, which I decided was more than fair game), so after watching him I can only really, truly claim a flash (although to all intents and purposes I onsighted this one too!).
  • Item 6: Some weird ropework at the ledges by the lower-offs (Ritchie walked over to the 6c from ‘The Fuddites’ and lowered down from the ‘Would I, Should I, Fudd I’ lower off bolts in order to rig a top rope on it), led to me running up ‘The Fuddites’ for a second time to strip the ‘draws on second. Again, totally clean!
  • Item 7: Top-roping the 6c (‘Would I, Should I, Fudd I’). Bloody hard. The route is described as having “an intense and reachy sequence”, and boy did it. Happily I managed all the moves on my first proper attempt, completing the route in two continuous halves. Don’t think I’d have the balls to lead it as the crux follows an incredibly committing semi-dynamic layover move to a cruddy sidepull, between the first and second bolts. Whilst you probably wouldn’t deck from the crux (so long as your belayer was on the ball), the possibilty of a deck-out can’t fail to enter your mind. Think I need to find a safer and less insecure feeling 6c to redpoint!
  • Item 8: Moving onwards back towards the car, we stopped at the Compact Walls area, and set off up a 6a+ called ‘The Great Escape’, where the fatigue from a fairly intensive day’s climbing began to rear its ugly head. I got to the last bolt and couldn’t commit to the final couple of moves to get up to the lower off. Gutted. My failure then proceeded to turn into a bit of a circus act as Ritchie also failed to do those last moves up, leading to him making a bizarre and hugely worrying traverse of the crag until he could finally get up to one of the numerous lower-offs. He then had to be lowered off and shift himself across the wall on a truly horrendous diagonal line in order to clean the route. Great fun!

I can honestly say the route ‘Would I, Should I, Fudd I’, graded as French 6c, was the single hardest route I have ever attempted outside. And what’s more, I enjoyed trying it. The hard moves felt good and it was a great feeling to be trying things that actually felt physically hard rather than just mentally. I’m pretty sure now that I could redpoint a 6c in a reasonable period of time – after all, I did ALL of the moves on this one on my first burn. I think that maybe, just maybe, I would actually like to have a crack at some hard sport climbing in the near future. Wow.

Monday 17 August 2009


Sometimes life is good. Everything seems to be going well: you’re in a great relationship, living comfortably in a really nice house in a fabulous area, you’re secure financially and lovingly supported in your pursuance of ‘a life less stressful’ (i.e. still don’t need to go back to work), you get to go into the mountains to climb, walk or scramble whenever you want to, and you’ve even just managed to bake the most fantastic batch of scones you’ve ever laid eyes on (yes, they really are that good!). But somehow, something still isn’t right.

I don’t know what it is, whether the crack on the head I received in the Alps has caused a horrendous chemical imbalance in my brain that’s causing me to feel this way, or whether I was never destined to break free from the suffocating chains of the depression of years gone by, but things don’t feel good right now.

Sometimes life is good, sometimes bad. When life is bad you tend to find a way to fight through the bad feelings, the lows, the agonies and the depressive moments, your mind copes because it has a reason to – you understand why you feel unhappy and this provides a kind of solace and comfort, or at least that’s how it’s been for me in the past. Right now though life is good, yet I have been suffering those horrible, terrible fraught feelings of desolation and panic I thought I’d left behind in my recovery. Why has it all come back? Why am I finding myself breaking into random sobs in the car? Why do I look at my scars and wonder what it would feel like to gain another? What is this feeling of emptiness and hollow loneliness when I’m not alone? I really don’t know. I just hope it gets better again soon.

Friday 14 August 2009

climbing words of wisdom, vol 1

In the past few days I have partaken of a range of differing climbing experiences, ranging from bouldering with small children, to teaching ‘less experienced climbers’ the various nuances of trad climbing with double ropes, to climbing in new venues with long walk-ins and disgusting descents. In these past few days the following little snippets of sensibility have made themselves apparent to me and so I thought I would share:

  • Approach shoes are fantastic things. Small enough and light enough to clip onto the back of your harness so you needn’t risk your life on steep wet grassy banks in shoes that are about as grippy as a wet turd in a sewer pipe. Approach shoes (or at least the amazing 5.10 tennies I’m now the proud owner of) are also often capable of climbing quite well, so for easier routes you may not even need to go through the modern day rock shoe ‘foot-binding’ ritual. Brilliant, or at least they are when you DON’T leave them in the boot of your car. D’oh.
  • Wet slimy rock really is just that, wet and slimy. There is no getting around it – if the rock is wet and slimy, it is going to be manky and frictionless. Remember this.
  • Scary Incompetence comes in all shapes and sizes, and believe me there is a never ending supply of terrifyingly incompetent actions that can be made within the realms of the climbing world for you to become witness to. If you ever think to yourself “well, now I’ve seen it all!”, you are wrong. You will never, ever have seen it all, and there will always be someone, somewhere, who will be capable and keenly ready to display even more terrifying and unsafe actions than you previously even considered to be possible. Trust me on this one.
  • When out for a pleasant day’s climbing, lunch is a really good idea. Whilst surviving on the ‘emergency’ chocolate supplies buried in your rucksack is occasionally permissible, it is usually a good idea to actually have a think about your day to come, and to pre-prepare some kind of sustenance for yourself.
  • Nut keys are an absolute essential for anyone climbing trad. They are useful in a whole host of situations, not just when you’re seconding a route where your mate has seemingly devised a never-ending trail of chinese puzzles instead of simple gear placements…For example, when leading there are a number of situations that may require the use of said nut key, from the fairly obvious “oh crap that nut has gone in at a strange angle, will never hold a fall yet seems to be permanently stuck” moments when you do actually need to re-adjust some failed gear placement, to the more obscure, but even more vital, ‘removal of wildlife from vital holds’, usually being of the spider or slug variety. The wildlife removal may also be necessary as a second or belayer – occasionally, you just may find yourself faced with a huge caterpillar sitting on your nice neat pile of rope…